tv White House Press Secretaries on the Press the Presidency CSPAN February 21, 2018 10:00am-10:53am EST
number one industries in a state. we have an upcoming farm bills to protect our farmer's rights and we have things to protect the poultry industry and they cannot attach riders to that and allow that to pass and they can protect our farmers. i think that's most important thing taking care of our constituents at home. ... [inaudible conversations]
[inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations] >> good evening, everybody. i am margaret holub, residents of correspondent white house association i cover for bloomberg and i want to welcome everybody to tonight's fantastic program and to thank of course our esteemed panel here and all of you know how grateful we are.
let me take a moment to thank martha for although she does for us in terms of her scholarship in her research. she is a constant resource for all of us who come to the white house and for any of the american public's interest in the president and the operations side of building. i also want to thank the white house historical association for your generosity and for your support. our program, martha stewart and all of our study and kind of interest in the presidency. just before i turned things over to marcia -- martha, last night in independence missouri at the truman library for what we hope will be the first of many partnerships and events with presidential libraries and museums across the country, talking with americans outside of the beltway and answering their questions about the presidency, the price and the
interaction between the two. we got a ton of questions and a ton of interest and many of our questions in the room tonight, but we just wanted to let all of you know that if this is something you are interested in, you want us to come to your hometown, let us know. let's get to work on it. will be at the reagan library and may as well. without further ado, none of these people needs introduction to turn it turn it over to martha. thank you for coming tonight. [applause] >> thank you very much. i am martha kumar and i'm the director of the white house transition project, which is the cosponsor with the correspondents association. we are a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization of political scientists who study the presidency, who studied the
white house and prepare information for people coming into the white house. steve thomas, executive director of the white house correspondents association and have done a great deal. [applause] working together for this program, but also working together for access to information and getting what they think the public needs. i'd also like to thank terry sullivan, executive director of the white house transition project who worked on event preparations as well. the genesis of the panels is a belief out there that the briefing is a place where reporters get all of their information in that people, a lot of people think that it's
useless. we are going to show the many ways in which the briefing is important to reporters. it is important to the public and important to the president as well. in the first panel, we have sarah sanders and mike mccurry who are going to talk about being press secretary and the role of the briefing and also the role of the press secretary. and then there is going to be a panel of reporters who are going to talk about where they get their information so that you can see it is more than just the briefing and the reporters are going to be peter baker of "the new york times," steve holland of reuters. margaret as president of the association will talk about access and alexis hammond junior at the is going to moderate.
so, let's begin. in looking at the briefing, let's start with you, mike because you brought the televised briefing. so, why did you bring television cameras in and what did you see as the uses for the briefing? how is it useful to reporters come in to the president, the staff and also to the public? >> well, let me step back for a second. the idea is the president of the united states has someone on his or her behalf every day to stand up and be accountable and answer questions and sometimes digress and not exactly the questions the white house wants to hear every day. that is a really, really important part of our process and the respect for that and the respect for this state and the media is very important.
they are not the enemy of the people. they are a critical part of the way in which we come to understand what is our government did what are we trying to do each and every day. but to your question, i have been at the state department in the first two years since the clinton administration, 93, 94 and will televised briefings there and i got to the white house and i said we don't televised briefings. that is bs. why don't we just change the rules and no problem. it was fine up until monica lewinsky. [laughter] but i think what the folks here will remember is i wished i'd put in place a rule be had at the state department, which is
we don't live broadcast these things because they are raw material for journalists who are trying to gather information about the white house. they are not news events. he now has to go out. [inaudible] it is treated now as an entertainment product on cable television and that's not how the white house briefing is supposed to be. the white house put out what it wants to sing. u.s. reporters, many of you here go check out against other sources and then you report and give us come in the american people, a more valid report. when it becomes a wide tv production every day, it becomes something else than what a briefing is supposed to be. i very much regret i did not put
some restrictions on how that briefing would happen every day, which simply said, i would've said it's embargoed until it's over so that it's not live. you can't put it online pdf to go report lies, but it would have been a different kind of event if it had not been a production every day. i regret that, but it's not going to change. part of the change in the media, the change in the immediacy, whatever social media gets death. remember as my daughter reminds me, you were a big shot, but it was like last century.
[laughter] and she's right about that. what we are doing this, we didn't have social media. we did not facebook, twitter, all the things you have to contend with now. so it's a different environment. but i think if we had brought it through more carefully, we would've established different ground rules in different ways in which people could assess the information they get in that briefing because it's become something that it should not if we're interested in just keeping the public informed about the critical things they need to know about the president's decisions in the white house. that's not a popular view among some of you here right now but that's the way i think about it. >> i may not always be the most popular person in the room. >> it wouldn't have taken long before it did.
>> we have good rules at the state department, which is you didn't go live with it until after the briefing was over. and it gave journalists a chance to assess what was really newsworthy that came out of this, that the people needed to know. but now it is theater and you have to perform every day. he always looks very good. i like the pearls. but it's theater, it's not a briefing and that concerns me a lot because what we need is more transparency, more access to the information, more of the public started hearing what needs to happen. c-span is here tonight and we love them because they take the briefing and put it on late at night so if they want to see the whole briefing, the conceivable briefing.
but it was not this kind of rat attack pat stuff that goes on now. >> what you think about the briefing on the white house staff spend on the president that the briefing has been important also for letting them know what issues are important, what things can't be avoided, what the priorities are. in some ways it's an early warning system so that having the president watched the briefing lets him know what's going on. did president clinton watch it? >> thankfully not. i think more attuned to it. >> sarah, what you see the uses of the briefing being? >> my experience is obviously a
little bit different than mike's. i agree that i think the purpose of the briefing, particularly how it was originally intended was meant to inform the public by way confirming the public, but the press about it to further disseminate information. i think it's still a very useful tool. i do agree that i think a lot of times the theatrics have it take away from the news component. i think most people at home don't care about a lot of the issues that we spend most of our time talking about the briefing spirit i said that before. i'm sure that's not very popular answer here. a lot of times we have topics that are -- make for better tv than they do for informing the policy in the substance of what is actually taking place at the white house. i think if there was a way to have a lot more substance in the briefing, i do think it would be
better for the american people. i know that kind of echo the point that mike's name when the cameras were off come as a brief period of the advocating for the cameras going off. i do think there's a certain element of transparency and having them on, but i can't tell you the amount of substance and the type of questions in the tone of the questions was very different in a time. from our administration the last year and they were off on the days that theron. again, i'm not advocating that we turn them off because i agree that there is something nice for the american public to be able to see that interaction. but if we have a little bit more substance would benefit all of us a little bit. certainly the white house did then the media would benefit from it because i think there are a lot of serious journalists
and serious reporters show up to work every day and actually try to put out good information. i think if there was more of that exchange and more substance discussed, i think it would have been both sides a lot better. >> a quick point on that in the history of televised briefing, it began with carter in the 1970s during the iran hostage crisis, he reached the televised briefing that the state department and they developed a practice. there would be a live briefing and then the reporters would gather up around on a background session, which is a little bit artificial. people can tell who's doing the briefing and the senior
administration official doing the briefing. there was a way to get the public information they needed to have that was not consumed in this theater of the televised briefing. and i wish there was more. to put the iron to you here, you've got to have an administration committed to respect the role of the free press. you cannot have a president who declares them to be the enemy agent goes out and subscribes them as fake news every day. that does not create the environment in which we have a kind of exchange for talking about it. but you know, part of that is political theater and if we can get away from political theater and get back to the idea that the public has a right to know. they have a right to know what their government is doing in there needs to be access to the information that we need to have. there need to be different ways
of conveying that information. a live televised briefing that the white house is not -- it may be entertainment for cable television in the afternoon, but it may be is not the best way to kind of get the public the information they need. as long as you are working to get critical information in front of the public and working with reporters, and because sometimes actually many of you here in the audience don't even go to the briefing because you say that's not the best use of my time. the best use of my time is actually going and doing the reporting that i need to do day in and day out. if you're working with them and creating the kind of environment in which you're helping them get access to the information they need, then i think we end up in a better place at the end of the day and that is trying to be critical. >> one of the waves, one of the things that you all did
particularly and i would say the first maybe six months or nine months of the administration was to have briefings by administration officials and have them come into the briefing room. and so the reporters in the briefing room could ask questions and it was not televised. and those were very informative sessions and ones where i thought the 18th of reporters came. they all knew that was an opportunity, whether it was to talk to mcmaster were tellers and on the new chin, wilbur ross, all of those people cycled through. there's a lot of information that was in those briefings. they still do some, but they are kind of low-key, but information
rich. >> you know, it's interesting you brought that up. we still do a number of those, but we have people comment on the front end of the briefing because there's a lot more reporters to get the information out there. they are very sensitive and very policy driven. it's interesting that rarely do all the cable networks covered the first part of the briefing. on most occasions when i come in i'll do an opening and will introduce the local officials subject matter. and i think that the exact point i was making is that i think certainly it echoes exactly what mike was saying is we have lost the purpose of what the briefing was intended to be. it was meant to inform the public. it was meant to inform reporters so they can further inform the
public and we are getting further and further away from that component, particularly when the most sensitive parts of the briefing at the parts that are least covered. did you ever see it played over and over again and rarely are they even covered at all. i think it's a real missed opportunity by the price, but i also think it's a real disservice to the american people and that is why you will see some frustration from this administration. we could not support or want to be bigger advocates of the first amendment, but i do think there's a level of responsibility that comes with being a journalist and like i said a few minutes ago, the majority of people who come up every day for the purpose wanting to do their job, but a handful of people that i don't think are responsible for that information and i think can be very inaccurate and i do think
that is problematic. one of the other problems that you see is now anybody with a phone or a computer will call themselves reporters and i think that is a challenge that actual journalists have to kind of fight with. they can apply for pastas to come to the press briefings that may not actually have a true outlet, but we allow all of those individuals to come in to ask questions and i think that is a challenge that a lot of reporters face between real reporters in real journalists and people that they have a blog and in those two things there's a blurry line between them now and a lot of times the real news component lost in the shuffle. >> i want to chime in on that. i really do believe i did the
same thing. we actually did these briefings. martha, you remember sometimes before foreign trips we would bring into the briefing room historians are other people that had no connections to the white house, which is knowledge of the countries or something like that and we would bring them in. i'll have to confess sometimes that was for me stalling until i had the answers to the questions that i knew were going to be the real questions at the briefing every day. [inaudible] >> i know, but at the end of the day, we knew that we had to be accountable and we had to go out. we had to deal with the press every day. you cannot do this job in an environment in which you are belligerent in saying we're at war with these people every day in the media. >> i don't think i've ever said
anything similar to that. >> you have not and you get great credit to the people in being amicable. but your president has got to change the way he talks about the media. he has to. it is critical to how we hold are glued together in our democracy functions. he's creating an environment in which it is hard for people to do this transaction is giving the public the information they need to have him for us to go out and do the job we have to do, which is to take questions can make it eat up as the press, which i understand is part of the job. but it has to come from some level of respect that there is a critical role they are. the president's comments sometimes are sort of seeming that he doesn't really respect what that critical relationship
is about. i'm not trying to put you on the spot. >> that is kind of a two-way street that there is a level of respect that could be certainly brought from the press corps as well. i mean, the idea that you are going to lay this blame at the feet of the president i find to be a little bit far-fetched. again, i know that's not very popular in this room, but we do the very best we can to go out and actually present information, but a lot of folks, they don't care about it. they don't care about the information we are putting out there and they would rather talk about freak stories and i find that to be a real disservice. >> i know, but that is not dissimilar from what i went through. every white house -- go back to thomas jefferson.
>> the historical numbers don't lie. 90% of the coverage about this president is negative. >> 90% of the people cannot question. >> when this country is actually doing really well. there's a lot of success stories out of the first year of the administration and when you have that much positive news to talk about and only 10% of the time it's covered, i think it is hard to argue that there shouldn't be a certain level of frustration. >> look, i have but frustration and every president -- >> i'm glad your numbers were better because i look at those, too. >> if you want to think bill clinton had a great liberal -- >> i think it's fair to say you had to weather the storm. >> bill clinton had the liberal press, i wish they'd showed up more often and been supportive. without regard. >> i'm not denying that.
>> the difference between the press and the white house. >> but the difference is we still understood and respected that they were there and that we had to deal with them because they were the conduit with which we kept the american people informed and for better or worse than some days we were able to get the worse rather than the better. but we did not declare war. >> yes you did. that is a big, big difference. you need to grow that back. you can do it, but the president has got to do that. >> one thing the president has been doing is speaking regularly to the prius. >> he does more, by the way. he is more accessible and doing it in exchanges and you are the master of the data on all of
this. more obsessed with either obama or clinton. >> written in the first year before you got there. [laughter] [inaudible] >> that is right. jefferson memorial up on capitol hill. got it. the president trump does do a lot of short q&a. >> .biz the formula. the whole, how many press conferences do you do at night. that's compared to your measure, which is like when you interact with the press? >> which i think just to jump in, argues the point that you are making comment that you don't have somebody who's accessible and being held accountable by the press.
by the definition of the fact he spends as much time interacting with the press as he does, it is hard to argue that he isn't open to answering those questions and being held accountable by the press. that's a very big difference in one of the things that regularly left out of conversations is how accessible the president and his and how often he interacts with the press, but also how often he interacts with the american public in a variety of different ways. >> when you guys were in office, that makes things very different, which i think it makes a really hard to compare things apples to apples from administration to administration because we are dealing with a whole lot of things that didn't even exist when you guys were in office. some of the comments on twitter and facebook, from both sides i think create a different element, a different environment that makes it really hard to compare the two administrations.
>> she just made a very, very important point, which is the job back in the 1990s. the immediacy of 24/7 stuff. we didn't have to deal with a lot of that. we could plan a new cycle that would have a rhythm to it. 24/7 in europe all night and you're probably up early in the morning. >> sandhu the reporters. >> it's different -- i mean, the job is different because of the changes we've seen in technology and social media and the ways in which the media covers the white house. you know, i keep saying this, and to have friends in the media, many of whom are here,
the competition in the business model of journalism has been speak -- speed, how fast can you break the story. i wish that we would slow it down and de-accelerate and sort of say who can get it right and who can get at most substantive and where can we go? i've heard all all of this does splatter across the internet. but i really want to know where can i go to get the real truth about what is going on. .. >> they are going out of
business and you are not going to have jobs. so, rewrite your profession and do something that will make a difference at the end of the day. >> check on what you're saying, because they're such a race to be first that you do have inaccuracies are going to be more often because the level and that goes back to the point i was making. tonight dealing with that so often something that was meant to get out there quickly and it may not be accurate can drive news for days. the story with the inaccuracy run wit on the front page and te correction runs on the back page. a lot of times you don't see the real reporting come through when they're such a race to be first.
>> i do not have a president that tweeted at 7:00 a.m. >> i can only imagine whoever the clinton administration what twitter could've look like. [laughter] >> maybe it's a press not to do that. >> that's a very good point. if you are white house reporter what could be better than to have the opportunity to make up every day at 6:30 a.m. i know exactly what is on the president's mind. you did not have that was a bill clinton or barack obama but you do have that with donald trump. you know what he is thinking about and what is motivating him, for better or for worse. personally i think some of it's for the worse but on the other hand is a question of how do you cover the white house and understand what motivates the
president, this guy is giving you raw material that is unprecedented in the history of how to cover the white house. i will refrain from partisan comments about what i think of it, but on the other hand you cannot claim that it is not giving you more transparency. >> it gets him a lot more stories. >> we know our president well. >> it also as you know when you're trying to develops to themes in trying it so hard to communicate and develop consistent storylines that will get people engaged in what you're doing. you get these constant rabbits going off the trail and then you lose track of how you keep
coherent. as a problem you have is the ability to be coherent and keep driving central messages that will be important that you have to reinforce. people have to hear it over and over again. they hear one time it won't count but when the president sends out rabbits on the trail and down the whole ago then you're off dealing with whatever you have to deal with everyday. >> if the briefing has not provided the kind of information to reporters that you want them to get, the messages you want them to get you are available in many other ways to reporters. you do bring in people, you serve as a facilitator to help reporters get information from people and then during the
afternoon you are always available to reporters. can you talk about those ways in which you reform importers the idea that everything comes out of the briefing is not accurate in many ways sarah's providing information and can you talk about some of those? >> the briefing is probably one of the smaller ways we get information out. there's a number people in the press that regularly talk and visited with reporters around the room. so when you see people in my office at some point today and certainly let regularly walking through the details of a story or helping provide information bring in an expert or facilitate them talking to someone within the administration that can go more in depth on a certain
policy. we do that a lot, most of the time i love to say the first thing that wakes me up his one of my kids or even twitter, but it's usually call starting around 5:00 a.m. for the morning shows a correspondence that want to talk about the different events of the day, or whatever else there may be. they want more detailed information about what the president is doing at a particular event. it starts early with a lot of phone calls that usually doesn't stop until well into the evening. phone, e-mail and frankly the fastest way to get information to a large number of reporters quickly is to use twitter. for instance last week when the president was going to make a
statement regarding the tragedy in florida, but that of via twitter because i knew it was the fastest way to let the press know what time the president was going to speak. there are many different tools we use to engage with the press. we do our best to make sure any time they have a question that we respond, sometimes we don't have a lot of information to give but sometimes the instruction that i've given his anytime you receive a question to respond back even if we don't have any information to give. probably the worst offender of not always responding to e-mail because i often get pulled into meetings and there may be two or 300 e-mails that i received over the course of a couple of hours
but i have not responded to. getting back through can be a challenge. we try to use every tool available. i have an amazing team who help facilitate and handle the request daily. >> there's another untapped resource which is in the federal government and the agencies we have a lot of people employ as public information officers. i get reminded of that. all the briefing is a very good book. but he was a public information officer and worked in the government for a long time. there's many people who work in the government whose job it is to keep the public informed.
i thought about this a lot. a lot of the day today reporting frontal through the white house. if we could funnel it back out to where the agencies are doing incredibly good work on behalf of the american people we need to put a spotlight on that. if we could figure that out it would be to everyone's benefit. elevating those folks in letting them talk. they all cower because they're afraid the white house will come down on them if they do their thing. there are a lot of people with a lot of good access to resources and information that we need to empower to be more communicative. >> in terms of the information
that you will provide, where does the president come in for your preparation for the briefing? do you see him before the briefing? i'm in a times a day do you see him? when he talks to does he tell you what he wants to say? and also how to say? >> no two days are like. many times it depends on what's happening with the news of the day. every day there is no camera briefing i will talk to the president before i go out. i usually have a few questions that i have a pretty good feeling will come out. sometimes i don't ask all of the questions that they will later ask. many times at specific to his thinking our reaction. i get beat up a little but but it's a little hard to always
read their minds on the questions they're going to ask to know all the things i should check with him before i go out. we tried to do the best job we can to get information sometimes it's from the president and sometimes it's from other members of the administration. if we know there's a big legislative drive or question coming that day we will meet with the legislative affairs team and walk through some of the questions we think are coming so we have a better idea of the background in process. the news of the day can determine who we meet with an involving briefing preps. there's been some instances where i haven't spoken to the president just before sometimes i talked to three or four times depending on the day.
>> to hear from him after the briefing? >> sometimes. >> does he watch it? >> sometimes but not always. >> this is a little bit of a sensitive question but are you clued into everything top-secret via. >> i'm not allowed to talk about the security clearances. this been a pretty hot topic lately. >> look, my process -- >> that's a very judicious answer. >> this is a critical point. i went into that room where the secrets are in the basement.
>> is there another room? that the state department it's the operations center at the white house it's a situation room. say england there look at the president's daily brief and i didn't have that at first i need a mac and ago blab anything, i just don't need to screw up by saying something is read and then in fact it is gray. that is the fatal thing for the press secretary when you inadvertently say something that is not true. >> i don't know anything about that mike. >> one last question. >> it's a critical thing to test
-- i want to make a point about it. clinton was good with this he would sometimes say get summoning here for this meeting because he needs to hear what were talking about. he didn't expect me to have an opinion or quantum blab about it but he wanted me to know what the contours of the debate were so i could adequately reflect what he was deciding. that was critical for the press secretary. >> to have that kind of access for whatever meetings you? >> i do that for the most part our team as a whole has been incredibly good about bringing me and particularly if there's a meeting with a lot of press interest. i've been in the room when the president goes on the hill. the part of a lot of meetings there because we know there'll be a lot of interest.
it's a lot easier to answer questions if you're in the room and i agree that access is incredibly important. so far i haven't had moments where it has been a point of contention. >> you keep at it make -- last question. >> yesterday the president tweeted, have a very reflective presidents' day. i wondered about both of your presidents and reflecting back on their first year what they learned about communication. >> i was not there i joined the clinton administration after the first two years. >> until mike showed up i came
in after we got hammered in the midterm election you have an opportunity to deal with that and not too long. we reconfigured the white house and i came in and was headmaster of the state department and there was a learning curve about how to communicate. but it was the last century and we had so fewer challenges and how to communicate than what this poor lady has to deal with day in and day out. and just terms of the new cycling 247. if we can get the journalists who are here to slow it down.
there's not like a big closet at the white house that is the truth closet and he gets open it up and there is the truth. it just takes time. and sometimes i have said the secretary said that in we have to figure out what it is the truth one of my predecessors wrote in his book he said the greatest challenge is verification. how do you make sure that what you are going to go out and say is true and how do you work the government and different sources to make sure that you know it's true. we have limited access to sources because we call up the secretary and say what's going on about this or we can read whatever we need to as long as
we're steering ourselves towards telling the truth, i got trouble saying sometimes you have to tell the truth slowly because he cannot tell everything you know that you have to keep it going towards the truth and away from falsehood. that's your challenge. >> what you think the president has learned in this past year about communication? >> one of the things he talked about when we're -- a month ago learning the differences of how you would approach something is a businessman first is as the president. that's been a very big shift rise as a businessman the way you process information in the
way you make a decision and executed very quickly can be very different. you have to work with them to the confines of government. that can sometimes be slow and difficult versus in business sometimes it can move faster. that's something he talked about in a public way that took more time to work through that process. that's something we have learned over the last year as an administration. >> thank you both very much. >> i think everyone should stick around because i think you introduce the next panel with the reporter letting us know where they're going to get their permission from, i would like to know a lot of the answers to because of the sources that come
out of the stories i'm interested i'm going to tune in and if you drop names i think that's perfectly okay. it's off the record so you're safe. feel free to share as much as possible. >> we may be not have achieved the white flag of surrender in the war against the press but sarah showing that she is trying to work it through. it's a tough thing to do. the target set by the president and he is the one who will change the probe vocabulary. you're doing what you need to do to try to make it work. >> the position of the press secretary think is the second most difficult staff job after chief of staff.
you have four constituents. you have the president, the press, the white house staff and you have the public. so meeting all of those is very tough. >> you know that office that we have which is a great office, there is a back door in the front door. you go out the back door you turn right here in the oval office, you turn left in your in the briefing room. to me it's a metaphor. your halfway between the two groups. i go to the back door and it's a slingshot down to the other side of the building. >> there was a refrigerator there that was stocked with beer most of the time.